Three Cheers For `The Good Old Abbey Boys`
(Part 2)

The coveted trophy had been won after a replay at Ballybay against St Patrick’s College, Cavan. The original match had been brought to a tragic end, due to the sudden and unprecedented death of the referee during the game, when Cavan were leading by three points.

That Breffni side were reckoned to be one of the strongest of the Irish colleges, awe-inspiring against the smaller and lighter Newry lads. Added to that was the impressive tradition of their opponents, whose former players included John Joe O’Reilly and Phil Duke. And neither the Newry school nor the county had ever won an Ulster title.

Since most observers predicted an easy Cavan victory, this imposed a severe strain on the Abbey players’ morale. But manger Gerry Brown had emphasised that his side had the beating of their opponents, - a message hammered home by the supporters of the supporters, waving red black and amber flags and scarves, chanting the school anthem: “Come on, the good old Abbey boys.”

And the opening minutes banished any feeling of inferiority, as the Newry side sized up the `boys in blue, showing skill and determination. Cavan’s confidence seemed to slip away, as they realised they had a fight on their hands. At midfield, captain Gerry Butterfield and Gerry Geoghan held sway, and delivered with accuracy. In defence, Raymond Hollywood, Finbar Conlon and Pat O’Hagan proved too strong, while goalkeeper Anthony McKay was a safe pair of hands.

Meanwhile, Kevin O’Neill was showing the assurance, which became a hallmark during Down’s conquest of the Sam Maguire Cup in 1960. He was ably supported by Keegan, McSherry, Brady and Keegan. 11 times the ball soared over the bar from an Abbey boot, while St Patrick’s replied with one goal and three points. The final whistle signalled pandemonium, as fans rushed on to the field to acclaim their heroes.

But hurling was the first sport played at the primary and secondary schools, being introduced in 1925. A field was purchased from Mr Matt McCann of the Victoria Bakery, for use as a pitch. So Bro Rice, a native of Kilkenny, decided that hurling should be played by secondary school pupils for a set of medals. Hurling was also popular with pupils at the Carstands primary school, encouraged by such teachers as Peter Conlon and Francis Byrne.

So the foundation was laid for a succession of famous teams. The Abbey provided the county minor hurling side, which won the Ulster title in 1930, `33 and `34, playing against Kilkenny in the all-Ireland semi-final. This was the first Down team to compete at Croke Park at championship level. And the school’s senior side gained entry to the Leinster colleges senior championship, winning the John Quinn Cup by defeating Kells C.B.S.

Among the players on those teams were Peadar McArdle, Oliver Keenan, Luke Curran, John White, Sean Southwell, Dan McDonald, Dennis Larkin, Jim Judge, Brian O’Rourke, Phil Gunn, Bertie Gallagher, Gerry Blair, Joe Fitzpatrick, Paddy Curran, as well as the future Dr William Corish and Dr S. Hollywood.

Gaelic football was introduced to the Abbey C.B.S. in 1935, and hurling declined. But past pupils helped to form such clubs as Clann Uladh, Bessbrook Geraldines, Camlough Shane O’Neill’s and Corrinshegoe. Clann Uladh eventually amalgamated with Newry Shamrocks.

When the Christian Brothers first arrived in Newry during the 1850’s, they rented a house at Downshire Road, and started a primary school in Kilmorey Street, now the site of the Gateway Club. They moved later to the Carstands school at the junction of Margaret Street and the Mall. In 1903, a building at Abbey Yard was purchased and converted into a residence, while adjoining property became the secondary school.

During the 40’s and 50’s, the school was staffed by Bros. Magee, Newell, Liston, McGreevey, Nagle and Rehill, along with lay teachers such as Paddy Crinion, `Todd` Sweeney, `Judy` Hoey, `the Gut` Fitzpatrick. Cathedral organist, Joseph Delafaille was music teacher, succeeded by Gus Toremans.

One past pupil, Jim McParland, a native of Queen (now Dominic) Street, recalled being lead-singer at Masses in both the Cathedral and St Catherine’s on Sundays. He also sang and played clarinet with St Catherine’s Concert Band, under conductor Luke Burke, raising money for a new Christian Brothers’ school on Courtney Hill.

And he revealed that the legendary tenor, John McCormack had sung in Newry’s Dominican church, to an audience of half-a dozen! The famous artist had been en route from Dublin to Belfast, and decided to call on an old friend, Theodore Lynch, organist at the Newry church. He was taking choir practice, so John McCormack joined them and sang a few songs, to the delight of a few people, who had dropped in to say a prayer.

Jim McParland spent some years in Birmingham as a professional singer, returning in home in 1941, taking a post with the Ambulance Service. He has been in great demand for concerts and other events, saying that he must have sang at weddings in every church from Derry to Dublin. Jim has twin daughters, Geraldine, who is a hair-stylist in Mary Street, Newry and Mrs Kay Thornton, who operates a business in Warrenpoint.

Indeed, there have been other past pupils on the entertainment scene, such as ace-comedians Charlie Smyth and Sean Canavan; Frank Hall (RTE) and Brian Durkan (UTV), as well as those like Mick Mathers, Brendan Carroll, Raymond McCourt and Aidan Finnerty, who have provided pleasure and laughter over the years.

Of course, the Abbey boys have been high-flyers in various examinations. They have gained top marks in the North and the British Isles at GCE and `A` Level, as well as competitions such as the Young Scientist of the Year. That small band of Brothers, who arrived in Newry 150 years ago, and laboured unselfishly for local youth since then, would be pleased by the impressive range of achievements, gained by their students in every walk of life.

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008